A suicide bomber killed two children and a British soldier in southern Afghanistan on Thursday and President Hamid Karzai called on NATO forces to use caution during military operations, a day after 20 civilians were killed.
The bomber, who was on foot and targeting British troops in the town Lashkar Gah, killed two children — a boy and a girl both younger than 8 — and wounded seven civilians, said Ghulam Muhiddin, spokesman for the governor of Helmand province.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the blast also wounded two British soldiers, and Britain’s Defense Ministry said later that one of them died.
In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber hurled himself in front of a police car just outside the city of Khost, killing one policeman and wounding four others, a police official said. There were no reports of civilian casualties, he said.
Karzai, meanwhile, said that while Afghanistan is “committed to the fight against terrorism,” NATO forces need to take precautions during military operations to protect civilians.
Karzai said nine civilians were killed and 11 wounded during a battle Wednesday in the town of Ashogho in Kandahar province. He said 11 civilians were killed during a fight in Tajikan village in Helmand province on Wednesday.
“I have mentioned this several times in the past that every effort should be made to ensure the safety of civilians and that inflicting harm to them is not acceptable to us,” the president said in a statement. “Once again, I urge NATO forces to take maximum caution during their military operations to avoid harming civilians.”
Newly deployed NATO troops have been battled resurgent militants in southern Afghanistan, which this year has faced the deadliest spate in violence in the country since the ouster of the Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces five years ago.
Coalition says attacks won't succeed
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO member states need to supplement the 31,000 alliance forces in the country, and that the NATO mission will only succeed if it can help the Afghan government improve people’s lives.
De Hoop Scheffer told British Broadcasting Corp. radio that suicide attacks show that the Taliban can only be “spoilers” in the process of nation building.
“I can assure you they will not beat NATO, neither the U.K. nor other forces, by employing these tactics,” he said.
Karzai convoyed his sympathies to the families of the slain civilians and instructed the governors of Kandahar and Helmand to provide emergency assistance.
Residents in the village of Ashogho said NATO helicopters fired on three mud homes where villagers were sleeping. Shellshocked, angry residents condemned the attack. Kandahar provincial Gov. Asadullah Khalid said it appeared that no Taliban fighters were in the village at the time of the airstrikes.
NATO said the operation, targeting militants suspected in roadside bombings, was believed to have caused several civilian casualties, which it regretted.
Afghan outrage over civilian deaths
In Tajikai, in Helmand province’s Grishk district, a rocket hit a house during a nighttime clash between suspected Taliban insurgents and NATO and Afghan security forces, police said.
Karzai’s statement said 11 civilians were killed, but Abdul Rehman, a resident, said 13 villagers, including 10 women and children, died in rocket fire from an aircraft.
NATO said in a statement that its aircraft and helicopters had fired on a “positively identified” compound from where the suspected Taliban were firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.
“Initial bomb damage from an observer on the ground confirmed a direct hit on the compound,” the statement said. NATO said it will “fully investigate” the claim that civilians were killed in the strike.
Since late 2001, there have been numerous incidents of civilians killed in military operations against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, although U.S.-led coalition and NATO forces say they go to extreme lengths to avoid civilian casualties. The international troops accuse insurgents of blending in with local populations while attacking foreign and Afghan soldiers. Many other civilians have been killed in Taliban attacks, including scores in recent suicide bombings.
The worst reported incident of civilian deaths from foreign military action in Afghanistan came in July 2002, when a U.S. airstrike in Uruzgan province killed 46 civilians and wounded 117, many of them celebrating at a wedding party.